Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Bloggerman Owns the High Ground

Keith Olbermann's clean common sense on MSNBC's Countdown continues to shame the bigfeet journos at the Washington Post and New York Times. Again Keith sears the hide off the Lying, Spying, Torture, Corruption, Incompetence and Inanition Administration.
Sept. 11, 2006 | 8:32 p.m. ET
This hole in the ground
by Keith Olbermann

Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.

All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.

And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.

I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.

And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft,"or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.

However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.

Five years later this space is still empty.

Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.

Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.

Five years later this country's wound is still open.

Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.

Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.

It is beyond shameful.

At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."

Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.

Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.

Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.

Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres. The terrorists are clearly, still winning.

And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.

And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.

The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.

Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.

Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.

Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.

History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.

The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."

The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."

Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.

Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.

Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.

Yet what is happening this very night?

A mini-series, created, influenced -- possibly financed by -- the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.

The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.

How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?

Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.

So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.

This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.

And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."

In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car -- and only his car -- starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An "alien" is shot -- but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help. The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."

And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.

"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn."

When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:

Who has left this hole in the ground?

We have not forgotten, Mr. President.

You have.

May this country forgive you.

And below, brother Tom Toles puts the final skewer in the coffin of Bush Minor's reputation.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Shaming ABC/Disney

To paraphrase Jimmy Breslin, ABC/Disney's propaganda broadcast The Path to 9/11 "reached down and molested the dead." A blogger called Defective Yeti got in their face so well that the Slangwhanger-in-Chief cannot forbear crossposting his/her response.

I was among the rabid right-wing bloggers fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of the ABC / Disney miniseries The Path To 9/11. While I applauded the filmmakers for bringing to light some hard truths regarding the attacks (where "hard" is defined as "un-"), I feel obligated to point out a few minor errors and inconsistencies:

* The Starr Report alleged that President Bill Clinton engaged in oral sex with Monica Lewinsky, not Zacarias Moussaoui (though it's easy to see how the two names could get mixed up).

* Evidence that the Taliban was founded by Tipper Gore is circumstantial at best.

* There is no record of Madeleine Albright describing the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole as "more of a prank, really" and dismissing it as "no big deal."

* Michael Moore spent most of 2001 working on his film Bowling For Columbine, so it's unlikely he could have found time to give the 9/11 hijackers flying lessons.

* The scene in which Howard Dean punches Jesus is a dramatization.

* The cockpit recordings from United Airlines Flight 175 have never been released, so there's no verification that that the last voice heard is a terrorist saying "this message brought to you by"

* Blooper! When the Clintons are in bed and Bill is reading to Hillary "to get her in the mood" he is holding Mein Kampf upside-down.

* The 9/11 Commission did not conclude that citizens could guard against future attacks by purchasing Lilo & Stitch DVDs.

* Sandy Berger and Osama bin Laden were not the co-stars of the 1983 hit comedy Bosom Buddies, so it's unclear how they could have "forged a strong and lifelong friendship" while serving as such.

* The finale, in which Bush crashes Airforce One into a remote Afghan stronghold, emerges unscathed from the wreckage, and defeats Al Qaeda using nunchucks and pyrokinesis, is actually a composite of several different events.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The weekend's 9/11 horror-fest will do Osama bin Laden's work for him

This repetitious publicity glorifies terrorism as a weapon of war, scaring us far more than the original explosions did

Simon Jenkins
Friday September 8, 2006
The Guardian

Turn on the radio this week and a ghoulish voice from the bowels of the former World Trade Centre seeks to curdle your blood and chill your bones. It is yet another BBC trailer evoking the horror of the twin towers and the monster of evil, Osama bin Laden. The corporation is desperate to outdo other media outlets in their commemorations of the fifth anniversary of 9/11. They include movies by Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass, and American and British 9/11 specials from stars such as Harvey Keitel and Kevin Costner called The Millionaire Widows, The Miracle of Staircase B, On Native Soil and numerous variants on twin towers. There are comic strips and videos and where-was-I-then memoirs. The weekend is to be wall-to-wall 9/11. Not glorifying terrorism? You must be joking.

The favourite line from the war on terror's military-industrial complex is that in 2001 Osama bin Laden "changed the rules of the game". (Forgotten is that he attacked the same target in 1993, his only error being one of civil engineering.) George Bush repeated the change thesis again on Wednesday in confirming his secret interrogation camps and excusing the five-year delay in bringing al-Qaida suspects to justice. Tony Blair cites the change with every curb on civil liberty. The "new" terrorism requires a new approach to public safety. The security industry cries amen.

Most of this is self-serving drivel. Nervous rulers have colluded with soldiers and businessmen throughout history to cite some ethnic or religious menace when needing more power and higher taxes. Political violence has become more promiscuous with suicide bombing and a consequent rise in kill rate per incident, but - as Matthew Carr shows in his book on terror, Unknown Soldiers - the change is one of degree.

Forty years after Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite, Russian terrorists tried to pack a plane with the stuff and fly it into the tsar's palace. In 1883 Chicago-financed Fenians exploded bombs on the London underground, leading the Times to wonder if the tube could ever be safe. There has been little change in the preferred weapon of terror, the explosive device, or in the psychopathology of the bomber. The causes remain the same: separatism, and religious nationalism dressed up as holy war.

What has changed, grotesquely, is the aftershock. Terrorism is 10% bang and 90% an echo effect composed of media hysteria, political overkill and kneejerk executive action, usually retribution against some wider group treated as collectively responsible. This response has become 24-hour, seven-day-a-week amplification by the new politico-media complex, especially shrill where the dead are white people. It is this that puts global terror into the bang. While we take ever more extravagant steps to ward off the bangs, we do the opposite with the terrorist aftershock. We turn up its volume. We seem to wallow in fear.

Were I to take my life in my hands this weekend and visit Osama bin Laden's hideout in Wherever-istan, the interview would go something like this. I would ask how things have been for him since 9/11. His reply would be that he had worried at first that America would capitalise on the global revulsion, even among Muslims, and isolate him as a lone fanatic. He was already an "unwelcome guest" among the Afghans, and the Tajiks were out to kill him for the murder of their beloved leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud (which they may yet do). A little western cunning and he would have been in big trouble.

In the event Bin Laden need not have worried. He would agree, as did the CIA's al-Qaida analyst in Peter Taylor's recent documentary, that the Americans have done his job for him. They panicked. They drove the Taliban back into the mountains, restoring the latter's credibility in the Arab street and turning al-Qaida into heroes. They persecuted Muslims across America. They occupied Iraq and declared Iran a sworn enemy. They backed an Israeli war against Lebanon's Shias. Soon every tinpot Muslim malcontent was citing al-Qaida as his inspiration. Bin Laden's tiny organisation, which might have been starved of funds and friends in 2001, had become a worldwide jihadist phenomenon.

I would ask Bin Laden whether he had something special up his sleeve for the fifth anniversary. Why waste money, he would reply. The western media were obligingly re-enacting the destruction and the screaming, turning the base metal of violence into the gold of terror. They would replay the tapes and rerun the footage ad nauseam, and thus remind the world of his awesome power. Americans are more afraid of jihadists this year than last. In a Transatlantic Trends survey, the number of them describing international terrorism as an "extremely important threat" went up from 72% to 79%. As for European support for America's world leadership, that has plummeted from 64% in 2002 to 37% this year.

Bin Laden might boast that he had achieved terrorism's equivalent of an atomic chain reaction: a self-regenerating cycle of outrage and foreign-policy overkill, aided by anniversary journalism and fuelled by the grim scenarios of security lobbyists. He now had only to drop an occasional CD into the offices of al-Jazeera, and Washington and London quaked with fear. The authorities could be reduced to million-dollar hysterics by a phial of nail varnish, a copy of the Qur'an, or a dark-skinned person displaying a watch and a mobile phone.

A feature of democracy is freedom of information and speech. News of violence cannot be concealed since concealment fuels the climate of fear. The state should not censor news of terrorist incidents. As Milan Kundera asserted, "the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting". But there are ways of not forgetting. A feature of democracy is also to reject arrest without trial, reject the use of torture, and reject retaliatory violence against people or groups. Democracy can apparently sacrifice these legal principles to guard against the 10% of terrorism that is bang. Why not restrain the publicity that fuels the other 90%, the aftershock? The boundary between news and scaremongering may be hard to define. But so is any boundary between liberty and security. What is so sacred about publicising terror as against habeas corpus?

Conceding the kudos of state censorship to jihadists should be as unthinkable as conceding arrest without trial. That does not excuse the politico-media complex from any responsibility for caution, a sense of proportion and self-restraint. The gruelling re-enactment of the London bombings in July and this weekend's 9/11 horror-fest are not news. They exploit grief and horror, and in doing so give gratuitous publicity to Bin Laden and al-Qaida. Those personally affected by these outrages may have their own private memorials. But to hallow the events with repetitious publicity turns a squalid crime into a constantly revitalised political act. It grants the jihadists what they most crave, warrior status. It more than validates terrorism as a weapon of war, it glorifies it.

The best way to commemorate 9/11 is with silence. Instead, Bin Laden must be laughing.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Get Real or Get Lost

Under the Lying, Spying, Torture, Corruption, Incompetence and Inanition Administration, the US has contrived a situation of which one plausible outcome before the end of 2007 is $100 oil, $10 gas, New Orleans abandoned, a housing crash, a stock market crash, an international recession, the obliteration of Ford, GM and Chrysler, nuclear-equipped Iran and North Korea, the overthrow of the Saudis and an Israel under constant attack.

Mercifully, the enlightened capitalists at the Financial Times are more than ready to explain the underlying American foibles that could bring this pretty to a pass.
America's Creed Leads to a Clash of Rhetoric and Reality
By Anatol Lieven, Financial Times, September 6 2006

The Bush administration's ideological rhetoric concerning US policy in the Middle East has become separated from the policy itself to an extent almost reminiscent of the former Soviet Union. According to the rhetoric, the US has adopted democratisation as the core of its political strategy and made a clean break with its past strategy of propping up local dictatorships and playing one country and ethno-religious group against another.

In practice - especially since the latest conflict in Lebanon - US strategy relies entirely on the ability of pro-American authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to control the anger of their populations at US and Israeli policies. To help keep these Sunni regimes in line, Washington relies on their fear of an expansion of Iranian and Shia influence. This is precisely the dominant US strategy of the past generation, except for periods when Saddam Hussein's Iraq replaced Iran as the chief regional bogeyman. President George W. Bush's language of democracy is also accompanied by utter contempt for the views of potential voters in the region.

This glaring clash between rhetoric and reality is odd, but much odder is the degree to which it has gone un-remarked by the US political class and even most of the media. Of course, criticisms have been raised on both the left and right. But the Democratic party and the US media have not made nearly as much of this contradiction, and the dangers it embodies, as one might have expected.

One reason why so much of the US goes along unquestioningly with Mr Bush's rhetoric concerns the nature of American nationalism. The belief that it is the US's national right, duty and destiny to spread "democracy" and "freedom" in the world is ingrained in most Americans from early childhood. This belief stems from the faith in the constitution, law and democracy that forms the so-called "American creed", the foundation of America's collective national identity. In the words of the great American historian Richard Hofstadter: "It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies, but to be one."

This American creed shares with Soviet communism the belief that it is applicable not just to its host nation, but to all mankind. Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that the Americans "are unanimous upon the general principles that ought to rule human society"; and this is no less true at the start of the 21st century than it was in the 1830s.

The nationalist myths attendant on the creed include a widespread belief that America is exceptional in its allegiance to democracy and freedom and that America is, therefore, exceptionally good. Because America is exceptionally good, it both deserves to be exceptionally powerful and by nature cannot use its power for evil ends. The creed is therefore also a foundation of belief in America's innate innocence. So, if as has often been said, Mr Bush occupies a kind of ideological bubble, it is a bubble made of steel and he shares it with tens or even hundreds of millions of other Americans.

Of course, much of the strengths of these beliefs about America's mission come from the fact that in the past they have proved true: in Germany and Japan after 1945 and eastern Europe in the 1990s. The creed also makes the US exercise of direct empire less likely, for it enforces at least a surface respect for democracy and self-determination.

But the core problem for American mainstream thinkers and voters is that because their perceptions are drawn from ingrained beliefs, not empirical study, they cannot easily learn from evidence, experience or the views of ordinary people elsewhere in the world. Nor can they easily distinguish one historical case from another: Poland from Ukraine, post-war Japan from the contemporary Middle East.

Americans' sense of national mission resembles, to an extent, the belief of the great European imperial nations of the past that they were spreading "civilisation" and "progress" to the rest of the world. Like those beliefs, it embodies elements of reality along with those of lies and hypocrisy. But neither evidence nor the views of the outside world count for much, given the depth of the nationalist belief itself. European nations in the 20th century had these nationalist faiths beaten out of them by repeated catastrophes. We can only hope that Americans will learn from their examples before it is too late.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation. His next book, Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World, co-authored with John Hulsman, is published later this month by Pantheon.